By Will Smale
The queue of 200 or so would-be entrepreneurs are in excited mood as they snake their way into the British Library in central London.
In hushed tones, they discuss what they hope to achieve from the day, and share titbits about their own business plans.
From teenagers to the middle-aged, and a fairly equal mix of men and women from all ethnicities, they are here for a talk by serial entrepreneur Doug Richard.
Entitled The Six Rules for Start-ups, Mr Richard, a former panel member of the Dragons’ Den television show, and multi-millionaire US entrepreneur, is promising to share the secrets of his success.
With tickets ranging from £45 to £195, expectations are high as the modern auditorium quickly fills to the soothing sounds of classical music being piped through the speakers.
As Mr Richard takes to the stage in a casual shirt and cardigan, there is also some palpable apprehension from those audience members who remember his often caustic comments to contestants on Dragons’ Den.
This is not a man who appears to suffer fools.
Thankfully Mr Richard is in high spirits as he entertainingly spends the day detailing his six top-tips for would-be entrepreneurs, with much self-disparaging humour at his own career, and a peppering of swear words.
The audience was invited to ask regular questions
“The idea that you are born an entrepreneur is a complete myth. I am not an entrepreneur by nature,” he says at the start of the day.
“There was nothing [entrepreneurial] in my family background, and my parents were horrified when I started up my first company. They said they didn’t know what I was doing, and to be fair, neither did I.
“I was living in Los Angeles and dirt broke.”
Add audience participation, video clips from Dragons’ Den, and an equally interesting guest talk by Philip Wilkinson, the co-founder of price comparison website Kelkoo, and the day rattles past.
But what did the audience think of the event?
IT consultant Sharon Richardson wants to grow her business
Sharon Richardson, 36, a self-employed IT consultant from Warwickshire, was there for tips to help grow her business.
“I have been in business now for three years and it is time to expand. I’ve picked up some very good, practical advice,” she says.
Another attendee, Thames Valley University student Franco Pozzuolo, 20, agrees.
“I’m doing business management in college, and want to start up my own fashion design firm,” he says. “The talk has been very motivational.”
Thousands of requests
Based in the UK for seven years, Mr Richard’s Six Rules for Start-ups seminar is just one of a number of similar events he regularly holds across the country through his School for Start-ups training business.
A veteran in the technology sector, he says he now directly invests in three new firms each year for every 3,000 requests he receives.
“Thanks to the profile Dragons’ Den gave me, I even get people coming up to me on the Tube with their business ideas,” he says.
“Because of my background in technology and software firms, people mistakenly think I only have an interest in those sectors, but I am equally passionate in helping, say, a plumber grow a business.”
Here are Mr Richard’s six top tips for would-be entrepreneurs:
HOW ATTRACTIVE IS MY PRODUCT TO MY CUSTOMER?
Your product is key – for a business to succeed, your idea has to be spot on.
It doesn’t matter how good your management skills are if no-one wants to buy what you are offering.
“Make something people want,” says Mr Richard.
“But not only that, go further, make something remarkable.
“Really crystallise your idea, and be prepared to drop it if you don’t think it will work.
“If you are a proper entrepreneur, I guarantee you’ll soon have another idea.”
When you have your product or service, you then need to establish the price to charge.
“Prices are not invented, they are discovered,” says Mr Richard.
“It isn’t the sum of the costs, it is only ever the price people are willing to pay.”
HOW ATTRACTIVE IS THE MARKET TO ME?
Choose carefully which marketplace you wish to enter.
Some will give you a good quality of life but never make you rich, others have much more opportunities for growth.
“What type of potential does your idea have – will it be a lifestyle business that will only ever employ a few people, or can it be scaled out?” says Mr Richard.
“Some people simply want to go into business on their own as they like the notion of being independent.
“This is a fair lifestyle choice, but be warned, it is just as much work to create a small failing business as a big successful one.”
CAN I SUSTAIN MY ADVANTAGE?
You will maintain an advantage over your competitors if your product and service is better, cheaper or faster.
Don’t worry too unduly about protecting your idea – it is not the case that if it isn’t protected others will copy you.
“Don’t think of growing too quickly,” says Mr Richard.
“Narrow is good, aim to be the very best in a small area.
“Take Nike for example. It is now a global giant, but for many years after it started, it focused solely on long-distance runners, it was that specialised.”
HOW ATTRACTIVE IS MY INDUSTRY?
Some industries are easier to succeed and grow in than others.
“As famed US investor Warren Buffett once said, ‘the surest way to lose money is to start an airline’,” says Mr Richard.
Other industries renowned for high failure rates include restaurants and shops.
Yet do not be put off by an already crowded industry.
“Trust me, when you start out you’ll be so small you can slip through the gaps.”
DO WE HAVE THE SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE?
Get advice and good staff to help plug any skills gaps you may have.
“Do you know how I succeed? I hire really good people,” says Mr Richard.
HOW CONNECTED ARE WE?
How good are you at making friends, and talking to strangers?
Get out and about – talk to suppliers, distributors and customers.